Solar Electricity Handbook

A simple, practical guide to solar energy: how to design and install photovoltaic solar electric systems

2012 Edition Internet Linked

Michael Boxwell

Greenstream Publishing 12 Poplar Grove Ryton on Dunsmore Warwickshire CV8 3QE United Kingdom www.GreenstreamPublishing.com Published by Greenstream Publishing 2012 Copyright © Michael Boxwell 2009–2012 Printed Edition: ISBN 978-1-907670-18-3 Kindle Edition: ISBN 978-1-907670-19-0 EPUB/Smashwords Edition: ISBN 978-1-907670-20-6 First Edition – published April 2009 Second Edition – published November 2009 Third Edition – published March 2010 Fourth Edition – published January 2011 Fifth Edition – published October 2011 Sixth Edition – published February 2012 Editor: Sheila Glasbey Michael Boxwell asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Whilst we have tried to ensure the accuracy of the contents in this book, the author or publishers cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions found therein. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

Table of Contents
Introducing Solar Energy ................................................................................................................... Who this book is aimed at........................................................................................................... The rapidly changing world of solar energy ................................................................................ Solar electricity and solar heating................................................................................................ The source of solar power............................................................................................................ The principles of solar electricity ................................................................................................ Understanding the terminology ................................................................................................... Setting expectations for solar electricity...................................................................................... Why choose a solar electric system? ......................................................................................... Cost-justifying solar................................................................................................................... Solar power and wind power ..................................................................................................... Fuel cells .................................................................................................................................... Grid-tied solar electric systems................................................................................................. Solar electricity and the environment ........................................................................................ In conclusion.............................................................................................................................. A Brief Introduction to Electricity................................................................................................... Don‟t panic ................................................................................................................................ A brief introduction to electricity .............................................................................................. How to measure electricity ........................................................................................................ The relationship between volts, amps, ohms, watts and watt-hours .......................................... A word for non-electricians ....................................................................................................... In conclusion.............................................................................................................................. The Four Configurations for Solar Power ........................................................................................ Stand-alone/off-grid................................................................................................................... Grid-tie....................................................................................................................................... Grid-tie with power backup (grid interactive) ........................................................................... Grid fallback .............................................................................................................................. How grid-tie systems differ from stand-alone ........................................................................... In conclusion.............................................................................................................................. Components of a Solar Electric System ........................................................................................... Solar panels................................................................................................................................ Batteries ..................................................................................................................................... Controller ................................................................................................................................... Inverter....................................................................................................................................... Electrical devices ....................................................................................................................... Connecting everything together................................................................................................. In conclusion.............................................................................................................................. The Design Process .......................................................................................................................... Short-cutting the design work.................................................................................................... Solar energy and emotions......................................................................................................... 1 5 6 6 7 7 8 9 9 10 11 11 12 12 12 14 15 15 15 16 16 18 18 19 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 25 26 27 27 27 28 30 31 31 32

In conclusion .............................................................................................................................. Scoping the Project ........................................................................................................................... Designing grid-tie or grid fallback systems ............................................................................... Fleshing out the scope................................................................................................................ Producing a power analysis....................................................................................................... When you are ready to proceed................................................................................................. Calculating inefficiencies........................................................................................................... When do you need to use the solar system?............................................................................... Keeping it simple ....................................................................................................................... Improving the scope................................................................................................................... In conclusion .............................................................................................................................. Calculating Solar Energy .................................................................................................................. What is solar energy?................................................................................................................. Solar panels and shade ............................................................................................................... Solar array power point efficiencies .......................................................................................... The effects of temperature on solar panels ................................................................................ Working out an approximate cost .............................................................................................. Working out dimensions ............................................................................................................ In conclusion .............................................................................................................................. Surveying Your Site ......................................................................................................................... What we want to achieve ........................................................................................................... First impressions ........................................................................................................................ Positioning the solar array......................................................................................................... Identifying the path of the sun across the sky ............................................................................ Shading ...................................................................................................................................... Future proof your system ........................................................................................................... Positioning batteries, controllers and inverters .......................................................................... Cabling....................................................................................................................................... Site survey for the holiday home ............................................................................................... In conclusion .............................................................................................................................. Understanding the Components........................................................................................................ Common components for all systems ........................................................................................ Solar panels ................................................................................................................................ Solar panel mountings............................................................................................................... Solar array cables ....................................................................................................................... Fuses and isolation switches ...................................................................................................... Ground fault protection.............................................................................................................. Components for Grid-Tie systems.................................................................................................... Grid-tie solar panels ................................................................................................................... Grid-tie inverters ........................................................................................................................ Components for Stand-Alone Systems ............................................................................................. Calculate your optimum voltage ................................................................................................ How to calculate your current .................................................................................................... 2

32 33 33 35 36 38 38 38 39 39 40 41 41 49 50 51 53 54 54 55 55 56 56 58 60 63 64 64 65 66 67 67 67 72 73 73 74 75 77 78 85 85 87

Calculating cable thicknesses .................................................................................................... Mixing and matching solar panels ............................................................................................. Batteries ..................................................................................................................................... Solar controller .......................................................................................................................... Inverters ..................................................................................................................................... Cables ...................................................................................................................................... Plugs and sockets ..................................................................................................................... Appliances ............................................................................................................................... Reputable brand names ............................................................................................................ Shopping list for the holiday home.......................................................................................... In conclusion............................................................................................................................ Planning, regulations and approvals............................................................................................... National and international standards for solar components ..................................................... Installation regulations............................................................................................................. Getting your electricity supplier involved ............................................................................... Solar grants and selling your power........................................................................................ In conclusion............................................................................................................................ Detailed Design .............................................................................................................................. Safety is designed in ................................................................................................................ Solar array design .................................................................................................................... Batteries ................................................................................................................................... Specifics for a grid fallback system ......................................................................................... Circuit protection ..................................................................................................................... Cable sizing and selection....................................................................................................... Some sample wiring diagrams ................................................................................................. The next step............................................................................................................................ Solar frame mounting .............................................................................................................. Positioning batteries................................................................................................................. Planning the installation.......................................................................................................... In conclusion............................................................................................................................ Installation ...................................................................................................................................... Have you read the instructions?............................................................................................... Safety ....................................................................................................................................... Assembling your toolkit.......................................................................................................... Preparing your site ................................................................................................................... Testing your solar panels ......................................................................................................... Installing the solar array .......................................................................................................... Installing the batteries .............................................................................................................. Installing the control equipment .............................................................................................. Installing a grid-tie system....................................................................................................... Commissioning the system ...................................................................................................... Charging up your batteries....................................................................................................... Connecting your devices.......................................................................................................... 3

87 89 91 97 99 101 102 102 106 106 108 109 109 110 110 111 113 115 115 119 123 124 124 125 128 130 130 132 133 133 134 134 134 138 138 138 139 140 141 142 142 143 143

In conclusion ............................................................................................................................ Troubleshooting.............................................................................................................................. Keep safe.................................................................................................................................. Common faults......................................................................................................................... Excessive power usage............................................................................................................ Insufficient power generation .................................................................................................. Damaged wiring/ poor connections ......................................................................................... Weak battery ............................................................................................................................ Inverter issues .......................................................................................................................... Maintaining Your System............................................................................................................... Internet Support .............................................................................................................................. Tools available on the website ................................................................................................. A Final Word .................................................................................................................................. Appendix A – Crystalline Solar Panels and Shading ..................................................................... Types of obstruction................................................................................................................ Designing shade-tolerant solar systems ................................................................................... Other options............................................................................................................................ If all else fails........................................................................................................................... In conclusion ............................................................................................................................ Appendix B – Solar Insolation ....................................................................................................... Understanding this information ............................................................................................... Appendix C – Typical Power Requirements .................................................................................. Household and office ............................................................................................................... Garden and DIY ....................................................................................................................... Caravans, boats and recreational vehicles................................................................................ Appendix D – Living Off-Grid....................................................................................................... A solar electric system in conjunction with grid electricity..................................................... Appendix E – Other Solar Projects................................................................................................. Grid fallback system/ grid failover system .............................................................................. Portable solar power unit ......................................................................................................... Solar boat ................................................................................................................................. Solar shed light ........................................................................................................................ Solar electric bikes ................................................................................................................... Appendix F – Building Your Own Solar Panels (and Why You Shouldn‟t).................................. Index ...............................................................................................................................................

144 145 145 145 145 146 147 148 150 151 153 153 155 156 157 157 160 160 160 161 161 183 183 184 184 185 186 188 188 189 190 190 191 192 195

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Introducing Solar Energy
Ninety-three million miles from Earth, our sun is 333,000 times the size of our planet. It has a diameter of 865,000 miles, a surface temperature of 5,600°C and a core temperature of 15,000,000°C. It is a huge mass of constant nuclear activity. Directly or indirectly, our sun provides all the power we need to exist and supports all life forms. The sun drives our climate and our weather. Without it, our world would be a frozen wasteland of ice-covered rock. Solar electricity is a wonderful concept. Taking power from the sun and using it to power electrical equipment is a terrific idea. There are no ongoing electricity bills, no reliance on a power socket: a free and everlasting source of energy that does not harm the planet! Of course, the reality is a little different from that. Yet generating electricity from sunlight alone is a powerful resource, with applications and benefits throughout the world. But how does it work? For what is it suitable? What are the limitations? How much does it cost? How do you install it? This book answers all these questions and shows you how to use the power of the sun to generate electricity yourself. Along the way, I will also expose a few myths about some of the wilder claims made about solar energy and I will show you where solar power may only be part of the solution. Although undoubtedly there are some significant environmental benefits of solar electricity, I will also be talking about where its environmental credentials have been oversold. I will keep the descriptions as straightforward as possible. There is some mathematics and science involved. This is essential to allow you to plan a solar electric installation successfully. However, none of it is complicated and there are plenty of short-cuts to keep things simple. The book includes a number of example projects to show how you can use solar electricity. Some of these are very straightforward, such as providing electrical light for a shed or garage, for example, or fitting a solar panel to the roof of a caravan or boat. Others are more complicated, such as installing photovoltaic solar panels to a house. I also show some rather more unusual examples, such as the possibilities for solar electric motorbikes and cars. These are examples of what can be achieved using solar power alone, along with a little ingenuity and determination. I have used one main example throughout the book: providing solar-generated electricity for a holiday home which does not have access to an electricity supply from the grid. I have created this example to show the issues and pitfalls that you may encounter along the way, based on real life issues and practical experience. A website accompanies this book. It has lots of useful information, along with lists of suppliers and a suite of online solar energy calculators that will simplify the cost analysis and design processes. The website is at www.SolarElectricityHandbook.com.

Who this book is aimed at
If you simply want to gain an understanding about how solar electricity works then this handbook will provide you with everything you need to know. 5

If you are planning to install your own stand-alone solar power system, this handbook is a comprehensive source of information that will help you understand solar and guide you in the design and installation of your own solar electric system. Solar has a big application for integrating into electrical products: mobile phones, laptop computers, portable radios. Even light electric cars can use solar energy to provide some or all of their power requirements, depending on the application. If you are a designer, looking to see how you can integrate solar into your product, this book will give you a grounding in the technology that you will need to get you started. If you are specifically looking to install a grid-tie system, i.e. a solar energy system that will feed electricity back into your local power grid, this book will provide you with a good foundation and will allow you to carry out the design of your system. You will still need to check the local planning laws and any other local legislation surrounding the installation of solar energy systems, and you will have to understand the building of electrical systems. In some countries, you specifically need to be certified in order to carry out the physical installation of a grid-tie system. If you are planning to install larger, commercial–size systems, or if you are hoping to install gridtie solar systems professionally, then this book will serve as a good introduction, but you will need to grow your knowledge further. This book gives you the foundations you need in order to build this knowledge, but there are special skills required when designing and implementing larger scale solar systems that go far beyond what is required for smaller systems and are beyond the scope of this book. If you are planning your own solar installation, it will help if you have some DIY skills. Whilst I include a chapter that explains the basics of electricity, a familiarity with wiring is also of benefit for smaller projects and you will require a thorough understanding of electrical systems if you are planning a larger project such as powering a house with solar.

The rapidly changing world of solar energy
I wrote the first edition of this book early in 2009. It is not a long time ago. Yet this 2012 issue is the sixth edition. In every edition, I have had to rewrite significant sections of the book and significantly update the website in order to keep up with the rapid pace of change. The rapid improvement in the technology and the freefall in costs since early 2009 have transformed the industry. Systems that were completely unaffordable or impractical just two or three years ago are now cost-effective and achievable. Solar panels available today are smaller, more robust and better value for money than ever before. For many more applications, solar is now the most cost-effective way to generate electricity. Over the coming years, all the signs are that the technology and the industry will continue to evolve at a similar pace. By 2015, solar will be the cheapest form of electricity generator, undercutting traditionally low-cost electricity generators such as coal-fired power stations. We are likely to see solar energy incorporated into more everyday objects such as laptop computers, mobile phones, backpacks and clothing. Meanwhile, solar energy is causing a revolution for large areas of Asia and Africa, where entire communities are now gaining access to electricity for the first time.

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As an easy-to-use and low-carbon energy generator, solar is without equal. Its potential for changing the way we think about energy in the future is huge. For families and businesses in rural African and Asian villages, it is creating a revolution.

Solar electricity and solar heating
Solar electricity is produced from sunlight shining on photovoltaic solar panels. This is different to solar hot water or solar heating systems, where the power of the sun is used to heat water or air. Solar heating systems are beyond the remit of this book. That said, there is some useful information on surveying and positioning your solar panels later on that is relevant to both solar photovoltaics and solar heating systems. If you are planning to use solar power to generate heat, solar heating systems are far more efficient than solar electricity, requiring far smaller panels to generate the same amount of energy. Solar electricity is often referred to as photovoltaic solar, or PV solar. This describes the way that electricity is generated in a solar panel. For the purposes of this book, whenever I refer to solar panels I am talking about photovoltaic solar panels for generating electricity, and not solar heating systems.

The source of solar power
Deep in the centre of the sun, intense nuclear activity generates huge amounts of radiation. In turn, this radiation generates light energy called photons. These photons have no physical mass of their own, but carry huge amounts of energy and momentum. Different photons carry different wavelengths of light. Some photons will carry non-visible light (infra-red and ultra-violet), whilst others will carry visible light (white light). Over time, these photons push out from the centre of the sun. It can take one million years for a photon to push out to the surface from the core. Once they reach the sun‟s surface, these photons rush through space at a speed of 670 million miles per hour. They reach earth in around eight minutes. On their journey from the sun to earth, photons can collide with and be deflected by other particles, and are destroyed on contact with anything that can absorb radiation, generating heat. That is why you feel warm on a sunny day: your body is absorbing photons from the sun. Our atmosphere absorbs many of these photons before they reach the surface of the earth. That is one of the two reasons that the sun feels so much hotter in the middle of the day. The sun is overhead and the photons have to travel through a thinner layer of atmosphere to reach us, compared to the end of the day when the sun is setting and the photons have to travel through a much thicker layer of atmosphere. This is also one of the two reasons why a sunny day in winter is so much colder than a sunny day in summer. In winter, when your location on the earth is tilted away from the sun, the photons have to travel through a much thicker layer of atmosphere to reach us.

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(The other reason that the sun is hotter during the middle of the day than at the end is because the intensity of photons is much higher at midday. When the sun is low in the sky, these photons are spread over a greater distance simply by the angle of your location on earth relative to the sun.)

The principles of solar electricity
A solar panel generates electricity using the photovoltaic effect, a phenomenon discovered in the early 19th century when scientists observed that certain materials produced an electric current when exposed to light. Two layers of a semi-conducting material are combined to create this effect. One layer has to have a depleted number of electrons. When exposed to sunlight, the layers of material absorb the photons. This excites the electrons, causing some of them to „jump‟ from one layer to the other, generating an electrical charge. The semi-conducting material used to build a solar cell is silicon, cut into very thin wafers. Some of these wafers are then „doped‟ to contaminate them, thereby creating an electron imbalance in the wafers. The wafers are then aligned together to make a solar cell. Conductive metal strips attached to the cells take the electrical current. When a photon hit the solar cell, it can do one of three things: it can be absorbed by the cell, reflected off the cell or pass straight through the cell. It is when a photon is absorbed by the silicon that an electrical current is generated. The more photons (i.e. the greater intensity of light) that are absorbed by the solar cell, the greater the current generated. Solar cells generate most of their electricity from direct sunlight. However, they also generate electricity on cloudy days and some systems can even generate very small amounts of electricity on bright moonlit nights.

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Individual solar cells typically only generate tiny amounts of electrical energy. To make useful amounts of electricity, these cells are connected together to make a solar module, otherwise known as a solar panel or, to be more precise, a photovoltaic module.

Understanding the terminology
In this book, I use various terms such as „solar electricity‟, „solar energy‟ and „solar power‟. Here is what I mean when I am talking about these terms: Solar power is a general term for generating power, whether heat or electricity, from the power of the sun. Solar energy refers to the energy generated from solar power, whether electrical or as heat. Solar electricity refers to generating electrical power using photovoltaic solar panels. Solar heating refers to generating hot water or warm air using solar heating panels or groundsource heat pumps.

Setting expectations for solar electricity
Solar power is a useful way of generating modest amounts of electricity, so long as there is a good amount of sunlight available and your location is free from obstacles such as trees and other buildings that will shade the solar panel from the sun. Solar experts will tell you that solar electricity is normally only cost-effective where there is no other source of electricity available. Whilst this is often the case, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule. Often solar electricity can be extremely practical and can save you money over the more traditional alternatives. Some examples might include: Installing a light or a power source somewhere where it is tricky to get a standard electricity supply, such as in the garden, shed or remote garage Creating a reliable and continuous power source where the standard electricity supply is unreliable because of regular power cuts Building a mobile power source that you can take with you, such as a power source for use whilst camping, working on outdoor DIY projects or working on a building site Creating green energy for your own use and selling surplus energy production back to the electricity suppliers through a feed-in tariff The amount of energy you need to generate has a direct bearing on the size and cost of a solar electric system. The more electricity you need, the more difficult and more expensive your system will become. If your requirements for solar electricity are to run a few lights, to run some relatively low-power electrical equipment such as a laptop computer, a small TV, a compact fridge and a few other small bits and pieces, then if you have a suitable location you can achieve what you want with solar. On the other hand, if you want to run high-power equipment such as fan heaters, washing machines and power tools, you are likely to find that the costs will rapidly get out of control. 9

As I mentioned earlier, solar electricity is not well suited to generating heat: heating rooms, cooking and heating water all take up significant amounts of energy. Using electricity to generate this heat is extremely inefficient. Instead of using solar electricity to generate heat, you should consider a solar hot water heating system, and heating and cooking with gas or solid fuels. It is possible to power the average family home purely on solar electricity without making any cuts in your current electricity consumption. However, it is not cheap, and you will need a lot of roof space to fit all the panels! It is usually a good idea to carefully evaluate your electricity usage and make savings where you can before you proceed. Most households and businesses are very inefficient with their electrical usage. Spending some time first identifying where electricity is wasted and eliminating this waste is an absolute necessity if you want to implement solar electricity cost-effectively. This is especially true if you live in cooler climates, such as Northern Europe or Canada, where the winter months produce much lower levels of solar energy. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the roof of the average-sized home is not large enough to hold all the solar panels that would be required to provide the electricity used by the average household throughout the year. In this instance, making energy savings is essential. For other applications, a solar electric installation is much more cost-effective. For instance, no matter which country you live in, providing electricity for a holiday home is well within the capabilities of a solar electric system, so long as heating and cooking are catered for using gas or solid fuels and the site is in a sunny position with little or no shade. In this scenario, a solar electric system may be more cost-effective than installing a conventional electricity supply if the house is offgrid and is not close to a grid electricity connection. If your requirements are more modest, such as providing light for a lock-up garage, for example, there are off-the-shelf packages to do this for a very reasonable cost. Around £70–£100 ($110–$160) will provide you with a lighting system for a shed or small garage, whilst £200 ($300) will provide you with a system big enough for lighting large stables or a workshop. This is far cheaper than installing a conventional electricity supply into a building, which can be expensive even when a local supply is available just outside the door. Low-cost solar panels are also ideal for charging up batteries in caravans and recreational vehicles or on boats, ensuring that the batteries get a trickle charge between trips and keeping the batteries in tip-top condition whilst the caravan or boat is not in use.

Why choose a solar electric system?
There are a number of reasons to consider installing a solar electric system: Where there is no other source of electrical power available, or where the cost of installing conventional electrical power is too high Where other sources of electrical power are not reliable. For example, when power cuts are an issue and a solar system can act as a cost-effective contingency When a solar electric system is the most convenient and safest option. For example, installing low voltage solar lighting in a garden or providing courtesy lighting in a remote location 10

You can become entirely self sufficient with your own electrical power Once installed, solar power provides virtually free power without damaging the environment

Cost-justifying solar
Calculating the true cost of installing a solar electric system depends on various factors: The power of the sun at your location at different times of the year How much energy you need to generate How good your site is for capturing sunlight Compared to other power sources, solar electric systems typically have a comparatively high capital cost, but a low ongoing maintenance cost. To create a comparison with alternative power sources, you will often need to calculate a payback of costs over a period of a few years in order to justify the initial cost of a solar electric system. On all but the simplest of installations, you will need to carry out a survey on your site and carry out some of the design work before you can ascertain the total cost of installing a photovoltaic system. Do not panic: this is not as frightening as it sounds. It is not difficult and I cover it in detail in later chapters. We can then use this figure to put together a cost-justification on your project to compare with the alternatives.

Solar power and wind power
Wind turbines can be a good alternative to solar power, but probably achieve their best when implemented together with a solar system: a small wind turbine can generate electricity in a breeze even when the sun is not shining. Small wind turbines do have some disadvantages. Firstly, they are very site-specific, requiring higher than average wind speeds and minimal turbulence. They must be higher than surrounding buildings and away from tall trees. If you live on a windswept farm or close to the coast, a wind turbine can work well. If you live in a built-up area or close to trees or main roads, you will find a wind turbine unsuitable for your needs. Compared to the large wind turbines used by the power companies, small wind turbines are not particularly efficient. If you are planning to install a small wind turbine in combination with a solar electric system, a smaller wind turbine that generates a few watts of power at lower wind speeds is usually better than a large wind turbine that generates lots of power at high wind speeds.

Fuel cells
Fuel cells can be a good way to supplement solar energy, especially for solar electric projects that require additional power in the winter months, when solar energy is at a premium.

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A fuel cell works like a generator. It uses a fuel mixture such as methanol, hydrogen or zinc to create electricity. Unlike a generator, a fuel cell creates energy through chemical reactions rather than through burning fuel in a mechanical engine. These chemical reactions are far more carbon-efficient than a generator. Fuel cells are extremely quiet, although rarely completely silent, and produce water as their only emission. This makes them suitable for indoor use with little or no ventilation.

Grid-tied solar electric systems
Grid-tied solar electric systems connect directly into the electricity grid. When the sun is shining during the day, excess electricity feeds into the grid. During the evening and night, when the solar panels are not providing sufficient power, electricity is taken from the grid as required. Grid-tied solar electric systems effectively create a micro power station. Electricity can be used by other people as well as yourself. In some countries, owners of grid-tied solar electric systems receive payment for each kilowatt of power they sell to the electricity providers. Because a grid-tied solar electric system becomes part of the utility grid, the system will switch off in the event of a power cut. It does this to stop any current flowing back into the grid, which could be fatal for engineers repairing a fault.

Solar electricity and the environment
Once installed, a solar electric system is a low-carbon electricity generator: the sunlight is free and the system maintenance is extremely low. There is a carbon footprint associated with the manufacture of solar panels, and in the past this footprint has been quite high, mainly due to the relatively small volumes of panels being manufactured and the chemicals required for the „doping‟ of the silicon in the panels. Thanks to improved manufacturing techniques and higher volumes, the carbon footprint of solar panels is now much lower. You can typically offset the carbon footprint of building the solar panels by the energy generated within 2–5 years, and some of the very latest amorphous thin-film solar panels can recoup their carbon footprint in as little as six months. Therefore, a solar electric system that runs as a complete stand-alone system can reduce your carbon footprint, compared to taking the same power from the grid. Grid-tied solar systems are slightly different in their environmental benefit, and their environmental payback varies quite dramatically from region to region, depending on a number of factors: How grid electricity is generated by the power companies in your area (coal, gas, nuclear, hydro, wind or solar) Whether or not your electricity generation coincides with the peak electricity demand in your area (such as air conditioning usage in hot climates, or high electrical usage by nearby heavy industry)

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It is therefore much more difficult to put an accurate environmental payback figure on grid-tied solar systems. It is undeniably true that some people who have grid-tied solar power actually make no difference to the carbon footprint of their home. In colder climates, the majority of electricity consumption is in the evenings and during the winter. If you have grid-tie solar but sell most of your energy to the utility companies during the day in the summer and then buy it back to consume in the evenings and in the winter, you are making little or no difference to the overall carbon footprint of your home. In effect, you are selling your electricity when there is a surplus and buying it back when there is high demand and all the power stations are working at full load. In warmer climates, solar energy can make a difference. In a hot area, peak energy consumption tends to occur on sunny days as people try to keep cool with air conditioning. In this scenario, peak electricity demand occurs at the same time as peak energy production from a solar array, and a gridtie solar system can be a perfect fit. If you live in a colder climate, this does not mean that there is no point in installing a grid-tie solar system. It does mean that you need to take a good hard look at how and when you consume electricity. Do not just assume that because you can have solar panels on the roof of your house, you are automatically helping the environment. From an environmental perspective, if you wish to get the very best out of a grid-tie system, you should try to achieve the following: Use the power you generate for yourself Use solar energy for high load applications such as clothes washing Reduce your own power consumption from the grid during times of peak demand

Environmental efficiency: comparing supply and demand
There is an online calculator that will allow you to map your electricity usage over a period of a year and compare it with the amount of sunlight available to your home. Designed specifically for grid-tie installations, this calculator allows you to see how close a fit solar energy is in terms of supply and demand. Whilst this online calculator is no substitute for a detailed electrical usage survey and research into the exact source of the electricity supplied to you at your location, it will give you a good indication of the likely environmental performance of a solar energy system. To use this online calculator, you will need to collate information about your electricity usage for each month of the year. You will usually find this information on your electricity bill or by contacting your electricity provider. Then visit www.SolarElectricityHandbook.com, follow the links to the Grid-Tie Solar Calculator in the Online Calculators section and fill in the online questionnaire.

In conclusion
Solar electricity can be a great source of power where your power requirements are modest, there is no other source of electricity easily available and you have a good amount of sunshine 13

Solar electricity is not the same as solar heating Solar panels absorb photons from sunlight to generate electricity Direct sunlight generates the most electricity. Dull days still generate some power Solar electricity is unlikely to generate enough electricity to power the average family home, unless major economies in the household power requirements are made first Larger solar electric systems have a comparatively high capital cost, but the ongoing maintenance costs are very low Smaller solar electric system can actually be extremely cost-effective to buy and install, even when compared to a conventional electricity supply It can be much cheaper using solar electricity at a remote building, rather than connecting it to a conventional grid electricity supply Stand-alone solar energy systems can have a big environmental benefit if they negate the need for a connection to grid power Grid-tie solar energy systems have an environmental benefit in sunny climates where typical electricity usage patterns are similar to the supply of sunlight In colder regions, where electricity usage is highest when sunlight is in short supply, the environmental benefits are less certain

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A Brief Introduction to Electricity
Before we can start playing with solar power, we need to talk about electricity. To be more precise, we need to talk about voltage, current, resistance, power and energy. Having these terms clear in your head will help you to understand your solar system. It will also give you confidence that you are doing the right thing when it comes to designing and installing your system.

Don’t panic
If you have not looked at electrics since you were learning physics at school, some of the principles of electricity can be a bit daunting to start with. Do not worry if you do not fully grasp everything on your first read through. There are a few calculations that I show on the next few pages, but I am not expecting you to remember them all! Whenever I use these calculations later on in the book, I show all my workings and, of course, you can refer back to this chapter as you gain more knowledge on solar energy. Furthermore, the website that accompanies this book includes a number of online tools that you can use to work through most of the calculations involved in designing a solar electric system. You will not be spending hours with a slide-rule and reams of paper working all this out by yourself.

A brief introduction to electricity
When you think of electricity, what do you think of? Do you think of a battery that is storing electricity? Do you think of giant overhead pylons transporting electricity? Do you think of power stations that are generating electricity? Or do you think of a device like a kettle or television set or electric motor that is consuming electricity? The word electricity actually covers a number of different physical effects, all of which are related but distinct from each other. These effects are electric charge, electric current, electric potential and electromagnetism: An electric charge is a build-up of electrical energy. It is measured in coulombs. In nature, you can witness an electric charge in static electricity or in a lightning strike. A battery stores an electric charge An electric current is the flow of an electric charge, such as the flow of electricity through a cable. It is measured in amps An electric potential refers to the potential difference in electrical energy between two points, such as between the positive tip and the negative tip of a battery. It is measured in volts. The greater the electric potential (volts), the greater capacity for work the electricity has Electromagnetism is the relationship between electricity and magnetism, which enables electrical energy to be generated from mechanical energy (such as in a generator) and

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enables mechanical energy to be generated from electrical energy (such as in an electric motor)

How to measure electricity
Voltage refers to the potential difference between two points. A good example of this is an AA battery: the voltage is the difference between the positive tip and the negative end of the battery. Voltage is measured in volts and has the symbol „V‟. Current is the flow of electrons in a circuit. Current is measured in amps (A) and has the symbol „I‟. If you check a power supply, it will typically show the current on the supply itself. Resistance is the opposition to an electrical current in the material the current is flowing through. Resistance is measured in ohms and has the symbol „R‟. Power measures the rate of energy conversion. It is measured in watts (W) and has the symbol „P‟. You will see watts advertised when buying a kettle or vacuum cleaner: the higher the wattage, the more power the device consumes and the faster (hopefully) it does its job. Energy refers to the capacity for work: power multiplied by time. Energy has the symbol „E‟. Energy is usually measured in joules (a joule equals one watt-second), but electrical energy is usually shown as watt-hours (Wh), or kilowatt-hours (kWh), where 1 kWh = 1,000 Wh.

The relationship between volts, amps, ohms, watts and watt-hours
Volts
Current x Resistance = Volts IxR=V
Voltage is equal to current multiplied by resistance. This calculation is known as Ohm‟s Law. As with power calculations, you can express this calculation in different ways. If you know volts and current, you can calculate resistance. If you know volts and resistance, you can calculate current:

Volts ÷ Resistance = Current V÷R=I Volts ÷ Current = Resistance V÷I=R

Power
Volts x Current = Power
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VxI=P
Power is measured in watts. It equals volts times current. A 12-volt circuit with a 4-amp current equals 48 watts of power (12 x 4 = 48). Based on this calculation, we can also work out voltage if we know power and current, and current if we know voltage and power:

Power ÷ Current = Volts P÷I=V
Example: A 48-watt motor with a 4-amp current is running at 12 volts.

48 watts ÷ 4 amps = 12 volts Current = Power ÷ Volts I=P÷V
Example: a 48-watt motor with a 12-volt supply requires a 4-amp current.

48 watts ÷ 12 volts = 4 amps
Power (watts) is also equal to the square of the current multiplied by the resistance:

Current² x Resistance = Power I² x R = P

Energy
Energy is a measurement of power over a period of time. It shows how much power is used, or generated, by a device, typically over a period of an hour. In electrical systems, it is measured in watt-hours (Wh) and kilowatt-hours (kWh). A device that uses 50 watts of power, has an energy demand of 50Wh per hour. A solar panel that can generate 50 watts of power per hour, has an energy creation potential of 50Wh per hour. However, because solar energy generation is so variable, based on temperature, weather conditions, the time of day and so on, a new figure is now often shown specifically for solar systems: a watt-peak (Wp) rating. 17

A watt-peak rating shows how much power can be generated by a solar panel at its peak rating. It has been introduced to highlight the fact that the amount of energy a solar panel can generate is variable and to remind consumers that a solar panel rated at 50 watts is not going to be producing 50 watt-hours of energy every single hour of every single day.

A word for non-electricians
Realistically, if you are new to electrical systems, you should not be planning to install a big solar energy system yourself. If you want a low-voltage system to mount to the roof of a boat, garden shed or barn, or if you want to play with the technology and have some fun, then great: this book will tell you everything you need to know. However, if the limit of your electrical knowledge is wiring a plug or replacing a fuse, you should not be thinking of physically wiring and installing a solar energy system yourself without learning more about electrical systems and electrical safety first. Furthermore, if you are planning to install a solar energy system to the roof of a house, be aware that in many parts of the world you need to have electrical qualifications in order to carry out even simple household wiring. That does not mean that you cannot specify a solar energy system, calculate the size you need and buy the necessary hardware for a big project. It does mean that you are going to need to employ a specialist to check your design and carry out the installation.

In conclusion
Understanding the basic rules of electricity makes it much easier to put together a solar electric system As with many things in life, a bit of theory makes a lot more sense when you start applying it in practice If this is your first introduction to electricity, you may find it useful to run through it a couple of times You may also find it useful to bookmark this section and refer back to it as you read on You will also find that, once you have learned a bit more about solar electric systems, some of the terms and calculations will start to make a bit more sense. If you are not an electrician, be realistic in what you can achieve. Electrics can be dangerous and you do not want to get it wrong. You can do most of the design work yourself, but you are going to need to get a specialist in to check your design and carry out the installation.

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The Four Configurations for Solar Power
There are four different configurations you can choose from when creating a solar electricity installation. These are stand-alone (sometimes referred to as off-grid), grid-tie, grid-tie with power backup (also known as grid interactive) and grid fallback. Here is a brief introduction to these different configurations:

Stand-alone/off-grid
Worldwide, stand-alone solar photovoltaic installations are the most popular type of solar installation there is. It is what solar photovoltaics were originally created for: to provide power at a location where there is no other source easily available. Whether it is powering a shed light, providing power for a pocket calculator or powering a complete off-grid home, stand-alone systems fundamentally all work in the same way: the solar panel generates power, the energy is stored in a battery and then used as required. In general, stand-alone systems are comparatively small systems, typically with a peak power generation of under one kilowatt. Almost everyone can benefit from a stand-alone solar system for something, even if it is something as mundane as providing an outside light somewhere. Even if you are planning on something much bigger and grander, it is often a good idea to start with a very small and simple stand-alone system first. Learn the basics and then progress from there.

Examples of simple stand-alone systems
The vending machine ByBox is a manufacturer of electronic lockers. These are typically used for left luggage at railway stations or at airports, or situated at shopping malls or fuel stations and used as part of a delivery service for people to collect internet deliveries, so they do not need to wait at home. One of the biggest issues with electronic lockers has often been finding suitable locations to place them where a power source is available. ByBox overcame this issue by building an electronic locker with a solar roof to provide permanent power to the locker. The solar roof provides power to a set of batteries inside the locker. When not in use, the locker itself is in standby mode, thereby consuming minimal power. When a customer wishes to use the locker, they press the START button and use the locker as normal. The benefit to ByBox has been twofold: they can install a locker bank in any location, without any dependence on a power supply. Secondly, the cost of the solar panels and controllers is often less than the cost of installing a separate electricity supply, even if there is one nearby.

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Recreational vehicles Holidaying with recreational vehicles or caravans is on the increase, and solar energy is changing the way people are going on holiday. In the past, most RV owners elected to stay on larger sites, which provided access to electricity and other facilities. As recreational vehicles themselves become more luxurious, however, people are now choosing to travel to more remote locations and live entirely „off-grid‟, using solar energy to provide electricity wherever they happen to be. Solar is being used to provide all the comforts of home, whilst offering holidaymakers the freedom to stay wherever they want.

Grid-tie
Grid-tie is gaining popularity in Europe and the United States. This is due to the availability of grants to reduce the installation costs and the ability to earn money by selling electricity back into the electricity companies through a feed-in tariff. Feed-in tariff schemes vary around the world and are not available everywhere. Where they exist, your local electricity company buys electricity from solar producers at an agreed rate per kilowatthour. In some countries, this price has been set at an inflated rate by government in order to encourage people to install solar. In other countries and regions, the price is agreed by the electricity companies themselves. In a grid-tie system, your home runs on solar power during the day. Any surplus energy that you produce is then fed into the grid. In the evenings and at night, when your solar energy system is not producing electricity, you then buy your power from the electricity companies in the usual way. The benefit of grid-tie solar installations is that they reduce your reliance on the big electricity companies and ensure that more of your electricity is produced in an environmentally efficient way. One disadvantage of most grid-tie systems is that if there is a power cut, power from your solar array is also cut. Grid-tie can work especially well in hot, sunny climates, where peak demand for electricity from the grid often coincides with the sun shining, thanks to the high power demand of air conditioning units. Grid-tie also works well where the owners use most of the power themselves.

An example of a grid-tie system
Si Gelatos is a small Florida-based ice-cream manufacturer. In 2007, they installed solar panels on the roof of their factory to provide power and offset some of the energy used in running their cold storage facility. “Running industrial freezers is extremely expensive and consumes a lot of power,” explains Dan Foster of Si Gelatos. “Realistically, we could not hope to generate all of the power from solar, but we felt it was important to reduce our overall power demand and solar allowed us to do that.” Cold storage facilities consume most of their power during the day in the summer, when solar is running at its peak. Since installing solar power, Si Gelatos has seen its overall energy consumption drop by 40% and now hardly takes any power from the utilities during peak operating times. “Solar has done three things for our business,” says Dan. “Firstly, it is a very visible sign for our staff that we are serious about the environment. This in turn has made our employees more aware that they need to do their bit by making sure lights and equipment are switched off when they are not 20

needed. Secondly, it shows our customers that we care for the environment, which has definitely been good for goodwill and sales. Thirdly, and most importantly, we‟re genuinely making a real contribution to the environment, by reducing our electricity demand at the time of day when everyone else‟s demand for electricity is high as well.”

Grid-tie with power backup (grid interactive)
Grid-tie with power backup – also known as a grid interactive system – combines a grid-tie installation with a bank of batteries. As with grid-tie, the concept is that you use power from your solar array when the sun shines and sell the surplus to the power companies. Unlike a standard grid-tie system, however, a battery bank provides contingency for power cuts so that you can continue to use power from your system. Typically, you would set up „protected circuits‟ within your building that will continue to receive power during a power outage. This ensures that essential power remains available for running lights, refrigeration and heating controllers, for example, whilst backup power is not wasted on inessential items such as televisions and radios. If there is a potential for main power to be lost for several days, it is also possible to design a system to incorporate other power generators into a grid interactive system, such as a generator. This would allow a grid interactive system to work as a highly efficient uninterruptable power supply (UPS) for extended periods of time. The cost of a grid-tie system with power backup is higher than a standard grid-tie system, because of the additional cost of batteries and battery controllers. Typically, having power backup will add 12–20% of additional costs over a standard grid-tie system. As with normal grid-tie systems, it is possible to sell surplus power back to the utility companies in some countries, allowing you to earn an income from your solar energy system.

An example of a grid interactive system
Grid interactive systems are gaining popularity with rural farms in the United Kingdom, where even short power blackouts can cause significant disruption. Traditionally, farms have countered this by using generators to provide light and power. However, between 2009 and 2011, when the UK Government were offering large incentives for installing solar power, many farmers fitted grid interactive systems onto their buildings, providing themselves with an income by selling electricity to the electricity utility companies and giving themselves backup power in case of a power blackout. The additional cost of installing a grid interactive system over a standard grid-tie system is more than offset by the low running costs and ease of use of the system. Farmers do not need to buy and run generators and the system is almost entirely maintenance-free. This is a big contrast with generator systems, which need to be tested and run regularly in order to ensure they are working effectively.

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Grid fallback
Grid fallback is a lesser-known system that makes a lot of sense for smaller household solar power systems. For most household solar installations where solar is being installed for technical or environmental reasons, grid fallback is my preferred solution. Operationally it is effective, it is costeffective and it is environmentally extremely efficient. With a grid fallback system, the solar array generates power, which in turn charges a battery bank. Energy is taken from the battery and run through an inverter to power one or more circuits from the distribution panel in the house. When the batteries run flat, the system automatically switches back to the grid power supply. The solar array then recharges the batteries and the system switches back to solar power. With a grid fallback system, you do not sell electricity back to the electricity companies. All the power that you generate, you use yourself. This means that some of the grants that are available for solar installations in some countries may not be available to you. It also means that you cannot benefit from selling your electricity back to the electricity companies. For this reason, grid fallback makes more sense in countries where there is no feed-in tariff available, such as India, or in countries like Australia that have financial incentives available for both grid-tied and off-grid systems. Grid fallback systems provide most of the benefits of a grid interactive system, with the additional benefit that you use your own power when you need it, rather than when the sun is shining. This reduces your reliance on external electricity supplies during peak load periods, which ensures that your system has an overall environmental benefit. The other significant benefit of a grid fallback system is cost: you can genuinely build a useful grid fallback system to power one or more circuits within a house for a very small investment and expand it as budget allows. I have seen grid fallback systems installed for under £400 ($680), providing a useful amount of power for a home. In comparison, even a very modest grid-tie system costs several thousands of pounds. There is a crossover point where a grid-tie system works out more cost-effective than a grid fallback system. At present, that crossover point is around the 1kWh mark: if your system is capable of generating more than 1kW of electricity per hour, a grid-tie system may be more cost-effective. If your system generates less than 1kW of electricity per hour, a grid fallback system is almost certainly cheaper. Unless you are looking to invest a significant amount of money on a larger grid-tie system in order to produce more than 1 kW of power per hour, or if you want to take advantage of feed-in tariffs, a grid fallback solution is certainly worth investigating as an alternative.

An example of a grid fallback system
Back in 2001, Colin Metcalfe installed a solar panel onto the roof of his garage, in order to charge an old car battery, which in turn powered a single light and a small inverter. After a power cut that winter, Colin decided to expand his system in order to provide basic power to his house. “I wanted to ensure I always had enough power in my home to power lights and to ensure my heating system would work,” explained Colin. “I have gas heating, but the controllers are all electric, 22

which means that if there is a power cut, I have no heating at all. In addition, I liked the idea of free electricity that was generated in an environmentally friendly way.” Colin upgraded his system bit by bit, as funds allowed. “An electrician fitted a new distribution panel (consumer unit) for my essential circuits, and this was connected up to the main panel via an automatic transfer switch. Then I added additional solar panels and batteries over the years as I could afford them.” This automatic transfer switch meant the essential circuits would receive power from the solar array or the batteries while power was available, but switch back to utility power when the batteries ran flat. Originally, the system provided around half the power he needed, but as he has added to the system, more and more of his power now comes from his solar array. “Today I have around 1.4kW of solar panels on the roof of my garage,” says Colin. “They look a bit odd as no two panels are alike, as I have bought them bit by bit as funds allow, but they now provide all the power I need around the year for all my essential circuits.”

Grid failover
Alternatively, you can configure a grid fallback system as a grid failover system. A grid failover system kicks in when there is a power failure from your main electricity supply. In effect, it is an uninterruptable power supply, generating its power from solar energy. The benefit of this configuration is that if you have a power cut, you have contingency power. The disadvantage of this configuration is that you are not using solar power for your day-to-day use. Although rare in Europe and America, grid failover systems used to be more common in countries where power failures are commonplace. In Africa and in many parts of Asia, grid failover systems reduce the reliance on power generators for lighting and basic electricity needs. However, in most cases, customers have found that a grid fallback or grid interactive system is more suitable for their needs. I am aware of two grid failover systems that have been installed in the past: both of these have since been reconfigured as grid fallback systems.

How grid-tie systems differ from stand-alone
Generally, stand-alone and smaller grid fallback systems run at low voltages, typically between 12 and 48 volts. This is because batteries are low-voltage units and so building a stand-alone system at a low voltage is a simple, flexible and safe approach. Grid-tie systems tend to be larger installations, often generating several kilowatts of electricity each hour. As the electricity is required as a high-voltage supply, it is more efficient to connect multiple solar panels together to produce a high voltage circuit, rather than use an inverter to step up the voltage. This high-voltage DC power is then converted into an AC current by a suitable grid-tie inverter. Grid-tie systems either link multiple solar panels together to produce a solar array voltage of several hundred volts before running to the inverter, or have a small inverter connected to each solar panel to create a high-voltage AC supply from each panel. The benefit of this high voltage is efficiency. There is less power loss running high-voltage, lowcurrent electricity through cables from the solar array.

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For stand-alone battery-based systems, low-voltage is the best solution, as the battery banks tend to work better as low-voltage energy stores. For grid-tie systems where the energy is not being stored in a battery bank, the higher-voltage systems are the best solution. Neither approach is inherently „better‟: it all depends on the type of system you are designing.

In conclusion
Solar can be used in a number of different ways and for many different applications Stand-alone systems are the simplest and easiest to understand. They tend to be comparatively small systems, providing power where no other power source is easily available With grid-tie, your solar energy system generates electricity that is then used normally. Any excess electricity production is exported onto the grid Grid-tie with power backup (also known as grid interactive) provides you with the benefits of a grid-tie system with the added benefit that power remains available even if electricity to your area is cut off Grid fallback systems have more in common with stand-alone systems than grid-tie systems. In design they are very similar to stand-alone systems, with an inverter running from a bank of batteries and an automatic transfer switch to switch power between the solar energy system and the grid power supply Grid failover systems are comparatively rare now, but provide uninterruptable power supplies using solar as the backup source Grid-tie systems have a different design to stand-alone systems. They tend to be high-voltage systems, whereas stand-alone systems run at much lower voltages

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Components of a Solar Electric System
Before I get into the detail about planning and designing solar electric systems, it is worth describing all the different components of a system and explaining how they fit together. Once you have read this chapter, you will have a reasonable grasp of how a solar energy system fits together. I deliberately do not go into much detail at this stage: all I am doing is providing an overview for now. The detail can come later.

Solar panels
The heart of a solar electric system is the solar panel itself. There are various types of solar panel and I will describe them all in detail later on. Solar panels or, more accurately, photovoltaic solar panels, generate electricity from the sun. The more powerful the sun‟s energy, the more power you get, although solar panels continue to generate small amounts of electricity in the shade. Most solar panels are made up of individual solar cells, connected together. A typical solar cell will only produce around half a volt, so by connecting them together in series inside the panel, a more useful voltage is achieved. Most solar panels are rated as 12-volt solar panels, although higher-voltage panels are also available. A 12-volt solar panel produces around 14–18 volts when put under load. This allows a single solar panel to charge up a 12-volt battery. Incidentally, if you connect a voltmeter up to a solar panel when it is not under load, you may well see voltage readings of up to 26 volts. This is normal in an „open circuit‟ on a solar panel. As soon as you connect the solar panel into a circuit, this voltage level will drop to around 14–18 volts. Solar panels can be linked together to create a solar array. Connecting multiple panels together allows you to produce a higher current or to run at a higher voltage: Connecting the panels in series allows a solar array to run at a higher voltage. Typically, 24 volts or 48 volts in a stand-alone system, or up to several hundred volts in a grid-tie system Connecting the panels in parallel allows a solar array to produce more power while maintaining the same voltage as the individual panels When you connect multiple panels together, the power of the overall system increases, irrespective of whether they are connected in series or in parallel In a solar array where the solar panels are connected in series (as shown in the diagram over the page), you add the voltages of each panel together and add the wattage of each panel together to calculate the maximum amount of power and voltage the solar array will generate.

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+

A solar array made of four solar panels connected in series. If each individual panel is rated as a 12-volt, 12-watt panel, this solar array would be rated as a 48volt, 48-watt array with a 1 amp current. In a solar array where the panels are connected in parallel (as shown in the diagram below), you take the average voltage of all the solar panels and you add the wattage of each panel to calculate the maximum amount of power the solar array will generate.

+ – A solar array made of four solar panels connected in parallel. With each panel rated as a 12-volt, 12-watt panel, this solar array would be rated as a 12-volt, 48watt array with a 4 amp current. I will go into more detail later about choosing the correct voltage for your system.

Batteries
Except in a grid-tie system, where the solar array connects directly to an inverter, solar panels rarely power electrical equipment directly. This is because the amount of power the solar panel collects varies depending on the strength of sunlight. This makes the power source too variable for most electrical equipment to cope with. In a grid-tie system, the inverter handles this variability: if demand outstrips supply, you will get power from both the grid and your solar system. For a stand-alone or a grid fallback system, batteries store the energy and provide a constant power source for your electrical equipment. Typically, this energy is stored in „deep cycle‟ lead acid batteries. These look similar to car batteries but have a different internal design. This design allows them to be heavily discharged and recharged several hundred times over. Most lead acid batteries are 6-volt or 12-volt batteries and, like solar panels, these can be connected together to form a larger battery bank. Like solar panels, multiple batteries used in series increase the capacity and the voltage of a battery bank. Multiple batteries connected in parallel increase the capacity whilst keeping the voltage the same. 26

Controller
If you are using batteries, your solar electric system is going to require a controller in order to manage the flow of electricity (the current) into and out of the battery. If your system overcharges the batteries, this will damage and eventually destroy them. Likewise, if your system completely discharges the batteries, this will quite rapidly destroy them. A solar controller prevents this from happening. There are a few instances where a small solar electric system does not require a controller. An example of this is a small „battery top-up‟ solar panel that is used to keep a car battery in peak condition when the car is not being used. These solar panels are too small to damage the battery when the battery is fully charged. In the majority of instances, however, a solar electric system will require a controller in order to manage the charge and discharge of batteries and keep them in good condition.

Inverter
The electricity generated by a solar electric system is direct current (DC). Electricity from the grid is high-voltage alternating current (AC). If you are planning to run equipment that runs from grid-voltage electricity from your solar electric system, you will need an inverter to convert the current from DC to AC and convert the voltage to the same voltage as you get from the grid. Traditionally, there is usually one central inverter in a solar system, either connecting directly to the solar array in a grid-tie system, or to the battery pack in an off-grid system. A more recent invention has been the micro inverter. Micro-inverters are connected to individual solar panels so that each individual panel provides a high-voltage alternating current. Solar panels with micro-inverters are typically only used with grid-tie systems and are not suitable for systems with battery backup. For grid-tie systems, they do offer some significant benefits over the more traditional „big box‟ inverter, although the up-front cost is currently higher. Inverters are a big subject all on their own. I will come back to describe them in much more detail later on in the book.

Electrical devices
The final element of your solar electric system is the devices you plan to power. Theoretically, anything that you can power with electricity can be powered by solar. However, many electrical devices are very power hungry, which makes running them on solar energy very expensive! Of course, this may not be so much of an issue if you are installing a grid-tie system: if you have very energy-intensive appliances that you only use for short periods, the impact to your system is low. In comparison, running high-power appliances on an off-grid system means you have to have a more powerful off-grid solar energy system to cope with the peak demand.

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Low-voltage devices Most off-grid solar systems run at low voltages. Unless you are planning a pure grid-tie installation, you may wish to consider running at least some of your devices directly from your DC supply rather than running everything through an inverter. This has the benefit of greater efficiency. Thanks to the caravanning and boating communities, lots of equipment is available to run from a 12-volt or 24-volt supply: light bulbs, refrigerators, ovens, kettles, toasters, coffee machines, hairdryers, vacuum cleaners, televisions, radios, air conditioning units, washing machines and laptop computers are all available to run on 12-volt or 24-volt power. In addition, thanks to the recent uptake in solar installations, some specialist manufacturers are building ultra low-energy appliances, such as refrigerators, freezers and washing machines, specifically for people installing solar and wind turbine systems. You can also charge up most portable items such as MP3 players and mobile phones from a 12volt supply. High-voltage devices If running everything at low voltage is not an option, or if you are using a grid-tie system, you use an inverter to run your electrical devices.

Connecting everything together
A stand-alone system
Solar Controller

Low-voltage DC supply

Battery Bank

AC Inverter Grid-level AC supply

The simplified block diagram above shows a simple stand-alone solar electric system. Whilst the detail will vary, this design forms the basis of most stand-alone systems and is typical of the installations you will find in caravans, boats and buildings that do not have a conventional power supply. This design provides both low-voltage DC power for running smaller electrical devices and appliances such as laptop computers and lighting, plus a higher-voltage AC supply for running larger devices such as larger televisions and kitchen appliances. 28

In this diagram, the arrows show the flow of current. The solar panels provide the energy, which is fed into the solar controller. The solar controller charges the batteries. The controller also supplies power to the low-voltage devices, using either the solar panels or the batteries as the source of this power. The AC inverter takes its power directly from the battery and provides the high-voltage AC power supply.

A grid-tie system using a single central inverter

Grid-tie Inverter

Grid Grid-tie meter

Distribution Panel Grid-level AC supply

This simplified block diagram shows a simple grid-tie system, typical of the type installed in many homes today. The solar panels are connected to the grid-tie inverter, which feeds the energy into the main supply. Electricity can be used by devices in the building or fed back out onto the grid, depending on demand. The grid-tie inverter monitors the power feed from the grid. If it detects a power cut, it also cuts power from the solar panels to ensure that no energy is fed back out onto the grid. The grid-tie meter monitors how much energy is taken from the grid and how much is fed back into the grid using the solar energy system.

A grid-tie system using multiple micro-inverters
A grid-tie system using micro-inverters is similar to the one above, except that each solar panel is connected to its own inverter, and the inverters themselves are daisy-chained together, converting the low-voltage DC power from each solar panel into a high-voltage AC power supply.

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MicroInverter

MicroInverter

MicroInverter

Grid Grid-tie Meter

Distribution Panel Grid-level AC supply

In conclusion
There are various components that make up a solar electric system Multiple solar panels can be joined together to create a more powerful solar array. In a stand-alone system, the electricity is stored in batteries to provide an energy store and provide a more constant power source. A controller manages the batteries, ensuring the batteries do not get overcharged by the solar array and are not over-discharged by the devices taking current from them An inverter takes the DC current from the solar energy system and converts it into a highvoltage AC current that is suitable for running devices that require grid power Generally, it is more efficient to use the electricity as a DC supply than an AC supply

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The Design Process
No matter what your solar energy system is for, there are seven steps in the design of every successful solar electric installation: Scope the project Calculate the amount of energy you need Calculate the amount of solar energy available Survey your site Size up the solar electric system Select the right components and work out full costs Produce the detailed design The design process can be made more complicated, or simplified, based on the size of the project. If you are simply installing an off-the-shelf shed light, for instance, you can probably complete the whole design in around twenty minutes. If, on the other hand, you are looking to install a solar electric system in a business to provide emergency site power in the case of a power cut, your design work is likely to take considerably more time. Whether your solar electric system is going to be large or small, whether you are buying an offthe-shelf solar lighting kit or designing something from scratch, it is worth following this basic design process every time. This is true even if you are installing an off-the-shelf system. This ensures that you will always get the best from your system and will provide you with the reassurance that your solar energy system will achieve everything you need it to do.

Short-cutting the design work
Having said that doing the design work is important, there are some useful online tools to help make the process as easy as possible. Once you have scoped your project, the Solar Electricity Handbook website (www.SolarElectricityHandbook.com) includes a number of online tools and calculators that will help you carry out much of the design work. The solar irradiance tables and solar angle calculators will allow you to work out how much solar energy is available at your location, whilst the off-grid project analysis and grid-tie project analysis questionnaires will each generate and e-mail to you a full report for your proposed system, including calculating the size of system you require and providing a cost estimate. Of course, there is a limit to how much a set of online solar tools can help you in isolation, so you will still need to carry out a site survey and go through components selection and detailed design yourself, but these tools will allow you to try several different configurations and play out „what if‟ scenarios quickly and easily. Incidentally, whilst some of these tools ask you for an e-mail address (in order to send you your report), your e-mail address is not stored anywhere on the system. Other than the report that you request, you will never receive unsolicited e-mails because of entering your e-mail address. 31

Solar energy and emotions
Design can often seem to be a purely analytical and rational process. It should not be. All great designs start with a dream. For many people, choosing solar energy is often an emotional decision: they want a solar energy system for reasons other than just the purely practical. Some people want solar energy because they want to „do their bit‟ for the environment, others want the very latest technology, or want to use solar simply because it can be done. Others want solar energy because they see the opportunity to earn money. I suspect that for most homeowners, the reasons are a combination of the above. It is so important that the emotional reasons for wanting something are not ignored. We are not robots. Our emotions should be celebrated, not suppressed: the Wright brothers built the first aircraft because they wanted to reach the sky. NASA sent a man to the moon because they wanted to go further than anyone had ever done before. Neither undertaking could be argued as purely rational; they were the results of big dreams. It is important to acknowledge that there are often hidden reasons for wanting solar energy. Sadly, these reasons often do not make it down onto a sheet of paper in a design document or onto a computer spreadsheet. Sometimes, the person making the decision for buying solar energy is secretly worried that if they voice their dreams, they will appear in some way irrational. The reality is that it is often a good thing if there is an emotional element to wanting a solar energy system. By documenting these reasons, you will end up with a better solution. For instance, if the environmental benefits are top of your agenda, you will use your solar energy system in a different way to somebody who is looking at solar purely as a business investment. By acknowledging these reasons and incorporating them into the design of your system, you will end up with a far better system. Not only will you have a system that works in a practical sense, it will also achieve your dream.

In conclusion
No matter how big or small your project, it is important to design it properly There are online tools available to help you with the calculations and to speed up the work Do not ignore the emotional reasons for wanting a solar energy system. You are a human being: you are allowed to dream

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Index
Amorphous Solar Panels ........... 54, 67, 68, 69 Amps ........................................................... 16 Automatic transfer box .............................. 189 Backup Power............................................. 98 Batteries........................................................... .... 26, 38, 91, 93, 94, 123, 132, 135, 136, 138, 140, 149 access......................................................... 140 AGM............................................................ 92 capacity........................................................ 91 Deep cycle ................................................... 26 Gel ............................................................... 92 installing .................................................... 140 lead acid........................................................... ... 26, 64, 91, 97, 108, 132, 134, 135, 149, 190 leisure .......................................................... 92 lifespan ........................................................ 93 pack ................................................................. 26, 27, 86, 92, 95, 96, 97, 123, 124, 141, 145, 148, 149, 185 refresher charge ................................. 140, 143 second hand ........................................... 95, 14 siting .......................................................... 140 traction................................................... 38, 92 .............................................................. Trojan ................................................................... 107 ventilation .. 12, 64, 66, 72, 132, 140, 141, 151 wet ............................................................... 91 Boat ......................... 10, 40, 92, 102, 128, 190 Cable................................................................ .. 64, 66, 73, 89, 101, 102, 108, 125, 126, 127, 130, 133, 134, 139, 140, 141, 142, 148 battery interconnection .............. 127, 141, 148 Thickness..................................................... 87 Cable Sizing .............................................. 125 Calculating voltage...................................... 85 Caravan.................. 5, 10, 28, 40, 92, 102, 103 Central heating.................................... 37, 188 Chemical burns.......................................... 135 195 Chemical Clean Up Kit ............................. 134 Circuit protection .............................. 124, 125 Commissioning ......................................... 142 Common Faults......................................... 145 Controller ......................................................... ..27, 30, 53, 64, 66, 67, 73, 86, 87, 95, 97, 98, 107, 108, 123, 124, 125, 126, 127, 131, 133, 134, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 151, 185, 186, 190 programming............................................. 143 Cost ............................................................. 53 Costs............................................................ 47 Crystalline Solar Panel.................. 54, 71, 156 Current ......................... 16, 17, 36, 85, 87, 126 DC current............................................. 30, 35 Devices coffee machine ............................................ 28 computer .......... 28, 33, 35, 100, 102, 104, 189 dishwasher ................................................ 105 fridge ................................ 9, 35, 103, 104, 108 Fridge .......................................... 28, 103, 188 games consoles.................................... 35, 104 hairdryer...................................................... 28 kettle............................................................ 28 light bulb .............................. 28, 103, 108, 190 microwave oven .................................. 28, 104 mobile phone......................................... 28, 37 MP3 player...................................... 28, 35, 37 music system............................... 35, 104, 105 radio .................................................... 28, 102 television ........................ 28, 35, 100, 102, 104 toaster.......................................................... 28 tumble dryer .............................................. 105 vacuum cleaner ........................................... 28 washing machine........................... 10, 28, 105 Don‟t Panic ................................................. 15 Earth............. 59, 102, 125, 127, 138, 141, 143 Earthing Rod ...................... 125, 130, 138, 141 Efficiency.................................................... 38

Electric bike ............................................... 191 electric charge.............................................. 15 electric current ............................................. 15 electric potential.......................................... 15 Electrolyte.................................................. 151 Electromagnetism ........................................ 16 Energy.......................................................... 16 Environment ........................................ 12, 131 Equalisation ................................................. 98 Expansion .................................... 98, 101, 108 First Aid Kit............................................... 134 acid neutraliser........................................... 136 eye wash ............................................ 134, 136 Fresnel Lense ............................................... 72 Fuel Cells ......................... 12, 63, 99, 146, 147 Fuse.................................................... 125, 142 Generator ......................................................... 12, 16, 39, 54, 98, 99, 146, 147, 185, 186, 190 bio-diesel ..................................................... 99 bio-ethanol ................................................... 99 grid fallback ..................................................... ..... 19, 22, 23, 26, 34, 124, 186, 187, 188, 189 Grid Fallback ............................... 22, 124, 188 Grid fallover ................................................ 23 Grid tie ....................................... 20, 21, 23, 78 Holdover ................................................ 93, 94 Holiday Home................................................. 5, 10, 33, 35, 38, 39, 47, 48, 49, 53, 54, 65, 87, 94, 99, 105, 106, 108, 127, 131, 133, 185 Inefficiencies ............................................... 38 insolation ............................................. 41, 161 Inverter............................................................ .. 27, 28, 30, 35, 38, 40, 64, 66, 67, 78, 86, 95, 99, 100, 102, 103, 104, 105, 108, 123, 124, 129, 133, 134, 135, 138, 141, 142, 143, 146, 147, 189, 190 modified sine wave ............................ 100, 105 power rating ................................................. 99 pure sine wave ................................... 100, 105 waveform ................................................... 100 irradiance ................................. 41, 47, 72, 161 Isolation Switch ........... 73, 118, 121, 125, 140 Joules ........................................................... 16 196

Kyocera ....................................................... 70 Latitude ................................................. 58, 59 Lighting ........................................................... ..... 10, 11, 31, 33, 35, 37, 39, 54, 87, 102, 103, 108, 115, 127, 185, 188 filament bulbs............................................ 103 halogen ...................................................... 108 magnetism .................... See Electromagnetism Maintenance .................... 11, 12, 92, 140, 151 Monocrystalline Solar Panels...................... 69 Multi-meter .71, 138, 139, 140, 141, 143, 144, 146, 147, 148 Obstacles ............................... 9, 47, 55, 62, 65 Off Grid................................... 10, 33, 39, 185 Ohm‟s Law.................................................. 16 Ohms ........................................................... 16 open circuit.................................................. 25 Petroleum Jelly.......................... 141, 148, 151 Phantom load.............................................. 37 Plugs and sockets ...................................... 102 Polycrystalline Solar Panels .... 68, 69, 70, 107 Portable power unit ........................... 189, 190 Power .......................................................... 16 Power regulator ......................................... 104 Resistance............................................. 16, 17 Safety .............................................................. ...... 72, 134, 135, 137, 140, 144, 145, 186, 190 Scope........................................................... 33 examples..................................................... 33 fleshing out.................................................. 35 improving .................................................... 39 solar panel ................................................... 71 Shade tolerant solar ........................... 157, 160 Shading........................................................... 9, 10, 25, 49, 50, 55, 56, 60, 61, 62, 63, 66, 68, 156, 157, 158, 159, 160 Hard shade................................................ 157 Soft shade .......................................... 156, 157 Shed Light ................................................. 190 Short circuit....................... 124, 125, 136, 138 Site survey....................................................... ................... 47, 54, 55, 56, 58, 65, 66, 67, 147 Solar

array................................................................. .. 25, 26, 30, 38, 41, 47, 48, 50, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 62, 64, 65, 66, 68, 72, 73, 86, 87, 89, 91, 92, 93, 94, 97, 98, 101, 120, 123, 124, 126, 127, 130, 131, 132, 133, 135, 137, 138, 139, 140, 142, 146, 147, 148, 151, 186, 191 Cost Justification ......................................... 11 Grid Tie ....................................................... 12 heating systems............................................. 7 hot water ............................................ 7, 10, 41 photovoltaic effect ......................................... 8 principles ....................................................... 8 trackers .................................................. 58, 73 trakers .................................................... 58, 73 Solar Boat .................................................. 190 Solar energy................................................. 41 Solar Equinox .............................................. 58 Solar Panels ..................................... 25, 67, 69 cleaning ..................................................... 139 fixing ........................................................... 57 mirrors ......................................................... 72

mounting .......................................................... .... 56, 57, 58, 62, 72, 130, 131, 132, 133, 138, 139 testing........................................................ 138 Solar Solstice .............................................. 59 Sun ................................................................ 5 Testing ...................................................... 143 Troubleshooting ........................................ 145 Uninterruptable Power Supply...... 54, 95, 189 Voltage......................... 16, 37, 85, 87, 99, 126 volts............................................................. 16 Watt hours................................................... 16 Watt-peak.............................................. 18, 80 Watts ........................................................... 16 Watts per square meter................................ 41 Weak battery ............................................. 148 web site ......................................................... 5 Wind power....................... See Wind turbines Wind turbines.............................................. 11 Wiring .............................................................. 89, 94, 102, 108, 115, 123, 124, 125, 127, 128, 130, 133, 139, 140, 142, 143, 144, 145, 147 Working at height ..................................... 135

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